Chapter 3 - The Assassins & The Target
Inside, the room was opulence made manifest--the best of the best. Enough to make the wealthiest noble envious. In the center of its spacious layout sat Halldor Baarn, reclined on a sofa. He brought a glass of wine to his lips as his features twisted in a wry, unpleasant expression.
'Absolute incompetence. Such a simple job, and yet apparently, one completely beyond them.'
Mr. Baarn had fully grasped the situation. He had given the order that no one be allowed in, yet there were now two children standing before him. Given the commotion outside, it had been easy to guess what had happened. Though their appearances made it hard to believe, the two standing before him were no doubt professional assassins, here for his life.
Still, Halldor maintained his composure. He kept this realization hidden, and didn't allow so much as a hint of panic to creep into his features.
The source of this confidence was a certain colossal machine that sat on the floor before him. Its mere presence made even the impossibly spacious room feel cramped. It towered over two arge in height, with six spiderlike legs protruding from its body. Its humanoid upper half stood erect, with four menacing arms stretching out from it. The entire machine emitted an eerie glow, making for a most intimidating sight to behold.
'Wowee. That's a big one,' Nine remarked, glancing up at it.
'An archaism!' Three exclaimed, immediately shifting to a battle stance.
'Heh. This beauty is a new favorite of mine--a rather fruitful find at a recent back-alley auction I happened to attend. And it wasn't cheap, let me tell you. But no, I didn't stop there. I'm a man who doesn't do things by half measures. I paid a princely sum to have it outfitted with the most cutting-edge technology available. Mira well spent, in my opinion. I daresay it has enough firepower to easily wipe out an entire platoon of soldiers if I wanted it to. In fact, it'd be mere child's play.'
Barely able to contain his smug grin, Halldor looked like a boastful child showing off his expensive toy at school.
'So the bums outside were just bouncers, then. And this monstrosity is what's actually here to protect you...' Three deduced.
'Oh! A sharp one. That's precisely correct,' Halldor said gleefully, 'As long as I have it by my side, my safety here is guaranteed. And once I make it to the Republic, I'll be untouchable!'
He let out a long laugh, his voice rising higher and higher, echoing endlessly throughout the gaudy chamber.
'He really is an idiot, huh?'
The duo's comments weren't born from simple overconfidence. Even if they did somehow fail in their mission, and even if Halldor did somehow manage to make it to Heiyue territory, he had already been marked for death by the Organization. They would pursue him to the bitter end. To the last man. He had zero chance of survival.
At Halldor's order, the archaism lurched into action. It set its sights on Three, and charged straight for him. Nine took the opportunity to begin casting her arts. While her partner specialized in close-quarters combat, she was a force to be reckoned with when it came to orbal arts.
As she began the charge, however, one of the archaism's arms rapidly folded out into a gun, the muzzle pointed in Nine's direction. Without delay, it sprayed a hail of bullets at her.
Nine evaded the gunfire by a hair's breadth, but was forced to abandon casting her art. The archaism focused its attention back on Three, who was busy fending off its melee attacks with his longsword. Nine sprinted to the other side of the room and started her cast again. The machine's aim was too adept, however, and she found herself unable to escape it long enough to get an art off.
It appeared that their foe was equipped with a powerful arts-detection sensor--one that allowed it to identify incoming orbal attacks and counterattack before they could be launched. Forced to abandon her casting yet again, Nine screwed up her face in frustration, and sullenly gripped her plush bear.
'Hmph. This thing doesn't play nice. I quit,' she said in a huff.
It was a fair point. Poison-tipped needles wouldn't have been particularly effective against the steel plating of a machine, and without the ability to cast her arts, Nine found herself at a loss.
Three, however, remained unperturbed and readied himself for another onslaught.
'I'm gonna grab a little shuteye. Wake me when the fighting's over, okay?' Nine said as she flopped down on one of the room's sofas, using her bear as a pillow.
'Nine?! Cut it out! I need you to stay awake!' Three shouted from across the room.
Despite this, Nine didn't react at all. As she dozed, the archaism seemed to disregard her as a threat and fully focused its attention on Three. Its four arms, transformed into a sword, a lance, an axe, and a gun, proceeded to launch a relentless string of attacks at the already-overwhelmed assassin.
Three leapt out of the way as the machine's sword arm cut an arc through the air, only to then see the lance rocketing toward him. He narrowly avoided it, but his escape path was blocked by a mighty swing of the axe. Meanwhile, the archaism had its gun trained in Halldor's direction. Even in the heat of combat, it prioritized protecting its master against any approaching threats.
Swift movements and deft swordplay were the foundation of Three's combat style, but they were of little use against such a powerful machine. The archaism was simply too fast, and its attacks were both explosively powerful and aimed with deadly precision. Further, its six legs afforded it perfect balance, and its multiple arms allowed it to launch attacks faster than Three could keep up. To his irritation, Three found his skillset completely useless against the metal monstrosity.
Sure, he was a better fit for the task than Nine, but only by a slim margin.
Regardless, he continued to fight, both blades flashing as they moved to intercept his foe. The sheer number of attacks coming at him forced Three to focus entirely on defense. He parried, dodged, and deflected the relentless wave of strikes, biding his time, waiting for the machine to leave an opening for him to strike with his longsword.
This violent dance continued on for some time. Three had managed to land a number of blows to the machine's body and arms, but each had resulted in no more than a metallic twang as his blade was repelled by its solid metal armor.
'Hahaha! It's no use, child! That armor was specially commissioned, and your pathetic little butter knives don't have a snowball's chance in Gehenna against them!'
Halldor's mocking tone grated on Three's nerves. It was made worse by the fact it was clear he wasn't lying--Three's attacks had been completely ineffective so far. Still, Three had yet to suffer any wounds. Given how things were going, though, it was only a matter of time before he was slowly worn down.
Nine suddenly began speaking, apparently having woken up from her nap. Still lounging on the sofa, she continued, her voice flatter and more precise than usual.
'Arms: Joint one, down five rege. Legs: Joint two, up three rege. Waist: Rotation axis center. Left side of chest: Up 2/5, left 1/5.'
The first to respond was not Three, but Halldor.
'You little wench! How did you do that?!'
He was flustered, clearly shocked that Nine had figured out the archaism's structural weak points.
Nine slowly rose from the sofa and reverted back to her usual drawl, sleepily rubbing her eyes as she spoke.
'I could tell by the sound. It takes a bit of concentration, though.'
Pure disbelief was etched into Halldor's face. Three, on the other hand, looked as composed as ever. He had known from the start what Nine was doing; he was simply buying time until the analysis was complete.
Three readied himself and rushed the archaism, his swordplay swifter than ever, a veritable tornado of slashes and stabs. Each of his attacks hit upon one of the weak points that Nine had pointed out. He suddenly switched to his short sword and performed the same volley of attacks, hitting each point a second time, but the result was the same as before--nothing save the same high-pitched metallic sound that rang out with each hit.
It didn't appear that the archaism had been damaged in the slightest.
Halldor was beside himself with laughter, relishing watching the young assassin struggle.
'What a joke! You can swing those little swords of yours until the poms come home, but you're never getting through that armor!'
'All part of the process.'
Letting this simple reply linger in the air, Three lined up his shortsword with the empty section in the base of his longsword. The two blades locked into place, becoming a single weapon, their sharp edges lining up perfectly. At first glance, it would be difficult to tell the two were ever anything other than a single sword. Halldor watched the process with interest, but then burst into mocking laughter a moment later.
'Proud of your pocket knife, little boy? Do you honestly think that will be your ticket to victory?'
Truth be told, even in its combined state, the reach of Three's sword hadn't improved any. Nor was the weapon sharper or faster. The slightly increased weight of the blade may have provided some increase in power, but certainly not enough to break through the archaism's thick armor. Given the opponent at hand, the weapon truly seemed little better than a toy.
Three chose to remain silent and let his weapon do the talking. He swung it at the weak point on the archaism's leg--the same spot he had targeted before. This time, however, his strike was followed by a loud explosion and the archaism's leg flew across the room. The blast seemed to have come from within the archaism itself, and was powerful enough to have blown its limb clean off. The blast appeared similar to that of a fire-element art, but neither Three nor Nine had appeared to have cast anything. Even if they had, the archaism's sensor would surely have detected it.
'Wh-What the--' Halldor stammered, his face twisted with shock and fear.
Another swing by Three's sword.
Followed by another explosion. A second of the archaism's limbs was sent flying to a corner of the room.
'What the hell is going on?!' Halldor screeched, no longer trying to hide his panic. His tone quickly deteriorated from alarm to abject terror.
'This is no ordinary sword,' Three began to speak, his face devoid of expression. 'It's fully integrated with a battle orbment, forming a single weapon. Well, strictly speaking, I suppose it's closer to an ordinary orbment than a battle orbment.'
As he spoke, he continued his attack, his swordplay not pausing for even a second.
'An orbment with a single function--a controlled explosion on points I designate. However, its activation requires each blade to have separately made contact with the intended target area. You can think of the marks as targeting coordinates, essentially.'
Even though Three's initial attacks seemed to have been repelled, they were actually preparatory steps in this process. The subsequent explosions were the true attack.
'The third strike to the same location, this time made with the unified blade, results in the explosion.'
The location and timing specifications were complicated, as was the use of the specialized orbment in conjunction with some automated processing. The end result was an instantaneous cast time, however. If the wielder was skilled enough, they'd be able to launch powerful arts attacks without the need for any chargeup period. It was in this ability that the true value of Three's weapons lay.
Having suffered an enormous amount of damage from the rapid arts strikes unleashed on it, the archaism began throwing sparks in all directions.
It began to dawn on Halldor that victory was no longer an option for him, and he began desperately looking for a means of escape.
'Stop! Stop fighting and get me out of here, NOW!' he ordered the archaism in a shrill yell.
Reacting to its new orders, the machine quickly rotated its torso and began moving toward him.
'I don't think so,' a lazy voice called out from across the room.
During the commotion, its remaining spiderlike legs had been bound with a complex web of steel wire, rendering it immobile.
'This is the end.'
Three quickly struck its remaining weak points in rapid succession. The resulting series of explosions tore the machine to pieces, littering its surroundings with burnt steel and charred components. When the smoke had cleared, the room was so filled with broken parts, it was more scrapyard than suite. What remained of the archaism's body ceased all functions and collapsed, its chassis mangled beyond recognition.
Three deftly wove his way through the junk scattered at his feet, silently moving toward Halldor.
A pitiful squeak escaped Halldor's throat as he scrambled backward, away from the approaching assassin. There was nowhere to run, however. Three's mission was nearing its end, yet he didn't feel happiness, or even relief.
He took a step closer.
He felt his sword suddenly grow heavy in his hand.
He forced himself to take another step.
His legs felt like they were encased in concrete.
His whole body felt like it was desperately rejecting his advance. Trying to pull itself away.
This was how it always ended. All that remained was for him to fulfill his role. He was nothing but a tool--a machine.
This was how it was supposed to be.
Three took one final step forward.
'There's no need to share any details with you. Still, I figure you at least deserve to know who's ending your life.'
To know, Three thought to himself, whose name to curse as you burn in the fires of Gehenna.
'I am Three of Swords.'
He plunged his blade deep into Halldor's chest, piercing the man's heart.
'I'm an assassin for the Organization.'
By this point, the panic on the second floor had largely subsided and the ship's security guards were finally starting to move up to the third floor. Picking up on this, Three and Nine quietly broke open the window and jumped through it to the sea outside.
'It's a good thing this mission wasn't on an airship. That would've made escaping way more of a pain,' Nine remarked.
She was right. Escaping from an airship would have necessitated a specialized aircraft for the operation, as well as forcing the two to leap from ship to ship midair. It wouldn't have been entirely impossible for the young assassins, though, and surely someone in their wide world had carried out such an operation before.
Nine softly called out to Three, again using her preferred nickname for him.
'He was a corrupt man. An evil man.'
The two of them looked back toward the ship. There was no need for further explanation between the two.
'Yeah,' Three said quietly, 'I know.'
He had been thorough in reading through the mission dossier, and knew that Nine spoke true. Halldor was a bastard through and through--one that had performed all kinds of horrible acts in the pursuit of mira. His mere existence sullied the world, and society was better off with him no longer a part of it.
'Not that it matters either way.'
When it came down to it, a hit was a hit. A target could be the person with the purest heart on the continent or the scummiest bottom-feeder imaginable. If an assassination order came in from the Organization, Three and Nine followed it. That's how it always was.
Nine went silent. She took something out from her plush bear and began blowing into it. It gradually took the shape of an inflatable raft big enough for one. Nine climbed aboard it and flopped down, once again using her bear as a pillow.
'I'm gonna catch another few winks. I'll leave this part to you, S, 'kay?'
'This part' meant for Three to swim them both to shore.
'Your legs work just fine,' he retorted, 'Do it yourself.'
Despite his words, Three felt a twinge of something resembling affection in his heart. He and Nine had been operating together for over a year by this point. She was a little younger than him and he sometimes found himself thinking of her as more a little sister than just his partner. Their natural rapport aside, she was also someone he could truly rely on during their missions.
Despite this, Three understood the situation. He understood that even if Nine was his partner, even if he thought of her as a little sister, he could never let his guard down.
He could never truly trust her.
To be continued
「フハハハハハ―― 無駄だ小僧！ 装甲も特注品を使っている、貴様らに突破できるはずもない！」
斬撃は先ほども斬ろうとした脚の弱点部分に命中した。すると “バンッ――！！” という爆音とともに、人形兵器の狙った脚が爆散した。まるで内側から爆発したようで、火属性のアーツの効果を思わせるが、スリーにもナインにもアーツを駆動した素振りはない。そもそも人形兵器のセンサーも反応しなかった。
――― 決して信用してはいけない。TO BE CONTINUED
Continue Reading Three & Nine
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